Jon says,“Simon (“admin”) with his Properganda hat on was kind enough to ask me to review a few of the recent Topic re-releases. The double Ewan MaColl CD was a bit of an epic but there’s some great stuff on it. This one struck me particularly. I love the verse where she’s tired and hungry and starts to have second thoughts – a little flourish of realism amongst the romance.”
True enough I did and Jon did me proud with some valuable insight from the folk singer’s perspective, bringing the knowledge that I lack. Two things occur. The first is that I still know nowhere near enough about Ewan MacColl, although without him it’s questionable where folk music, let alone this project, would be today. The second is how few times, if at all, I’ve referred to MacColl’s comments on songs, especially when compared with Bert Lloyd whose sleeve notes seem by contrast to have been constantly chirruping away. It made me wonder whether, on reflection, having a stack of Ewan’s Topic CDs as a first point of reference wouldn’t have served me well with this project. But then I note that even the collection Jon kindly reviewed for me doesn’t have his notes anyway, as he’s constantly referred to in the third person and it’s a bit late for that anyhow. Much of the double CD is plucked from an eight LP set of Child Ballads, as conceived by Kenneth Goldstein for Riverside Records, a label that these days is probably celebrated for its jazz output almost exclusively. MacColl and A.L. Lloyd shared the project and received equal billing, but Ewan sings almost two to every one that Bert does. OK! I’m threatening to tie myself in knots of Ewan vs Bert, which wasn’t the intention and I haven’t even got to the song yet. So, you can read the liner notes from the CD at Mainly Norfolk . It’s also interesting to find out that MacColl’s knowledge of the Child ballads came largely from his parents, family and work colleagues before the traditional singers that came into contact with the revival. He filled in gaps by referring to printed texts, notably Greig and Keith’s Last Leaves Of Traditional Ballads And Ballad Aires. Most are to some extent collations and therefore probably benefit from his dramatic skills in honing the final result. Check here for the Child variants and fragments. As you’ll see from the notes to Ewans version, this is apparently related to ballad #279, but as that only seems to appear in Scottish dialect, I’m struggling to understand some of it. It’s described as more ribald and seems to involve the beggar taking the young lassie to his bed. It’s what happens after the inevitable consequence of that, which seems to involve cats or dogs or something that I’m struggling with. Am I just being dense again? Perhaps someone could dip in here and help me out with a translation.